Want better management in your C.E.O.? Look to the person right next to you

Several months ago, I interviewed Howard Glassman, a former investment banker and very successful CEO. During the course of our interview, Howard told me something I had never heard anybody else say before: “I go to my management consultant to help me with management-related challenges.”

Truth: According to data released by the American Management Association, more and more CEOs are turning to consultants. AFA research reveals that 13.8% of chief executive officers hire consultants on a regular basis, up from 10.8% in 2011. Those estimates are from the third annual studies of 100 North American and European companies including Pfizer, Deloitte, TCA, GE, and McKinsey & Company.

In its statement of purpose, AFA’s goal is to serve “the corporate clientele who want their C.E.O. and other C.E.O.s to become leaders in technology-enabled HR and chief information Officer (CIO) and CFO (CFO) management,” and in some cases, as clients.

And so, out of curiosity, I called some of the consultants AFA refers to, asking to interview them.

I’m not telling the other people who are doing this work that you should or shouldn’t use these consultants. It isn’t illegal. And it may be your best chance to get answers to what seem like peripheral questions. However, I do want to tell you that, as someone who has always been skeptical about the use of consultants, I did wonder, “Do the consultants really know anything about managing in a company?”

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As an example, I asked Jed Taubert, co-founder of Torky Blue (a consultancy focused on financials and business improvement), what it is like to work with chief financial officers (CFOs). He was patient with me, explaining that he works with CFOs in more than 20,000 companies worldwide. But then, he suddenly launched into the sorts of questions that might raise your antennae.

He asked, “Do you think there is anything an external consultant can actually say to a CFO in a way that they could not themselves say to a CFO?”

I was still a little skeptical, even though he’s talking about a group of people who were experienced in dealing with CFOs, and therefore probably coming from a much better situation.

He thought it over for a minute, and then gave me this: “CFOs are really good at managing the daily business. When I hire a CFO and we meet, we have to say, ‘We need to make these calls more easily,’ ‘we need to meet more people on the phone,’ ‘we need to get the balance right.’ The CFOs are the ones who can articulate this.”

He then threw out another thought, asking me if I’m aware of this: “The real reason why you need outside help is that you don’t really have a good idea of what the problem is that you need to fix, and there are a million details as to how they should be fixed. So, on the part of the CFO, the outside consultant and the project director work together to get through all of the details.”

In a small but telling way, this part of his answer suggested that he could diagnose problems and make better decisions about how to fix them. Just look at the number of work-from-home employees who, like me, with a C.E.O. Other C.E.O.s Turn to, or what she does: work with C.E.O. Other C.E.O.s Turn to.

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Jed’s book is called CFO Other C.E.O.S. Turn to, or HCOT, and there are other books by the same name that are dedicated to companies, too.

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